Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Turning a FAIL into a WIN

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

It's been a helluva day. To sum up:

  • Sean has an ear infection (mild so far) that has been keeping us up for the last couple of nights. 
  • I wanted to buy Sudafed (because we've had success if we can dry up the fluid in the ear before a nasty feverish infection hits, thereby avoiding penicillin), but couldn't because my driver's license is missing (don't get me started on that, read my Twitter stream for ranty goodness). 
  • Got Brendan to obtain the dangerous potion, met him halfway between work and home to exchange the goods (he received tax papers to take to the accountant, because no good deed goes unpunished!).
  • Tried to get Sean to take the Sudafed. I succeeded in getting approximately 13% of the dose into his body, frustrating and traumatizing us both.
  • Returned home whereupon the big kids promptly woke Sean up from a much-needed (by him and by me) nap.
  • Minor clay disaster.
  • Nail polish on the floor.
  • Yelling by me. :o(

Not my best effort ever.

However, this is where I'm getting better all the time--I realized my awful behavior while it was happening and said "I need a break. I'm taking a break. I don't want to yell any more because it is making me unhappy." And I took said break.

Later, Ryan wanted to talk. It's not fair, says he, that whenever I want to tell him something that's upsetting to me that he has to listen, but sometimes when he wants to say what he is upset about, I shut him down. I listened. He finished his complaint and stared at me challengingly.

I thought about it for a second and then looked at him and said, "You're right. I do that sometimes. I'm sorry."

He interrupted with a pre-fab counter-argument to the thing he thought I was going to say. So I said, "Did you hear me? I just said that you're right about that and I'm sorry about it."

"Oh." says he. :o)

So we worked on a plan for something he can tell me next time I do that. I explained that I didn't want to do that to him, and that it didn't seem fair at all.

Ryan apparently figured that this was a good time to get other injustices off his chest, so he dove right into the next one. One of the things I was fussing at him about earlier was the fact that he borrows my stuff without asking and doesn't return it to its place. He also likes to open up new packages of office supplies (such as boxes of pencils) that I'd prefer to keep in the packages until we need them. That kind of stuff.

Apparently it's not fair that I make him keep the stuff he doesn't want to share up in his room, but then I keep stuff I don't want to share all over the house. Trickier to address. I let him tell me and tell me and tell me, and then I rephrased the problem to make sure I understood.

"You have to keep things you don't want to share up in your room, and you think it's not fair that I can say no to sharing my things that are not up in my bedroom?"

He nodded. Then I had an epiphany!

"Soooo...one of the reasons you feel like you can borrow stuff off my desk and from the kitchen is because it's not up in my room? Even though I've asked you to check with me before you borrow that stuff?"

Assume. Positive. Intent. We had arrived at the crux of our misunderstanding, a misunderstanding that we have a zillion times a day. He's right; I am constantly telling him that if he refuses to share certain toys, then he needs to put that toy in his room. Toys down here, no matter who they belong to, are assumed to be in the general toy rotation, and no fair freaking out if someone has a turn.

He feels put upon, since he feels like this rule applies only to him and not to anyone else in the house, most especially grownups. He'd been blowing me off, partly because of that feeling of injustice and perhaps a bit of genuine confusion.

The fact of the matter is that this rule applies only to him because he is the only one who needs it. If someone asks to have a turn with something of his, he says no 90% of the time. He freaks out 99% of the time he sees someone touching something without permission.

I explained that the purpose of the rule was not that everything downstairs is "in play," but that it's to make things easier on him (and me) because he so often says no and gets so upset about sharing, and sometimes resists my help in working out a plan for taking turns. He'll recall that I rarely, if ever, have asked Morgan to take a toy up to her room--and why? Because she says yes more often than not. My stuff gets to be down here, too, because I say yes most of the time--I just like to be asked if it's certain office supplies (like my stapler and hole punch) so that I can help people remember to return it to my desk (or at least have a clue where in the house it might have been used so that I can locate it).

It was a really good conversation. REALLY GOOD. He listened, I think he understood, and I think he got a sense that this wasn't a limit we'd set just to be mean or unfair to him, that we based it on the things he'd been doing and the things he'd been unable to do. I also talked to him about what needed to happen in order to ditch that limit--he'd need to start saying yes more often than he said no, and he needed to be calmer and more proactive in working out plans (or seeking our help).

I could see his anger dissipate; his face relaxed, he started to smile and joke. Then he tested me out one more time (this is Ryan we're talking about after all!).

"But what about those papers over there? You're ALWAYS making me pick up my things on the floor, you make me move my projects out of the way, and there! THERE! You've left papers!"

He was pointing at my desk, where I'd been sorting the mail. I tend to drop the outer envelopes and junk mail on the floor right next to my desk during the process which had been interrupted by our earlier conflicts.

I pointed out that, as he could clearly see, I hadn't made anybody pick up anything in quite some time. He smiled. I also reminded him that I usually asked him to pick up his projects right away only if they were right in the middle of a pathway.

He said, "Oh yeah! That's right! Because if my project was there [he pointed at the walkway to the kitchen] then everyone would trip and mess it up and aaaaaahhhhh!!! [dramatic reenactment of a pratfall]" More giggling.

By this time we were smiling and laughing, had resolved a few problems, come to a better understanding of each other, some of the rules for our home, and we hugged it out.

So even though this day started off notsogreat, and I was certainly not living up to my own parenting principles for some of it, I'm going to count this day as a WIN.

I modeled how to listen, how to be reasonable, how to do an apology, how to have a civilized problem-solving discussion. I helped him understand that the limits we set are not arbitrary and are fair. I gave him some idea of how he can change things if he wants certain limits to go away. I let him know that I'm willing to uphold our house rules on everyone, even myself. I asked him for help the next time I misbehave, because I want to do better. We looked each other in the eyes and communicated. We shared our problems and hugs.  I got my Positive Discipline mojo back, and helped cultivate some virtues (in myself and in Ryan), too.

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